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What's legal, what's not when it comes to transporting alcohol?



As two of the biggest drinking occasions of the year occur next week " St. Patrick's Day and spring break " both are opportunities to overindulge. Consequently, area police increase their presence in the hope of reducing alcohol-related traffic accidents. Knowing a little about Oklahoma's labyrinthine drinking laws can help save you some serious legal trouble.


Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow of the Oklahoma City Police Department's Public Information Office said the best advice is a common sense one: Don't drink and drive. "We say that all the time, but really, the best thing you can do is stay away from any situation involving alcohol and vehicles."

Since many people will be out specifically to drink that week, and because many will drive, it's best to know your limit. As a service to students, the University of Oklahoma provides an online blood-alcohol calculator.

The site asks for weight, number of drinks and hours spent drinking. The tool is very helpful, but you'll need to know what the alcohol content is on some of the drinks. It only gives one option for wine, for example, but since wines can range in percent alcohol, the calculator can be misleading.

Wardlow also said that being in the driver's seat of a car while intoxicated is illegal, even if the vehicle is parked.

"It's called actual physical control," she said, "and it's a combination of the person in the driver's seat being intoxicated and the keys in the ignition or near at hand." In other words, don't try to sleep one off in your car.

Article XXVIII of the Oklahoma Constitution deals with alcohol. The Oklahoma Alcoholic Controls Act takes a closer look at drinking in the state. Sub-section 537 of that act lists personal "enumerated prohibited acts."

Included in the list is a prohibition against giving alcohol to minors and transporting open containers of alcohol. However, also included are the prohibitions against drinking alcohol in public and transporting more than a liter into the state.

Additionally, it prohibits intoxication in any public area even if no alcohol is present. That means walking from bar to bar is technically illegal if a person is intoxicated. This is an especially important restriction in the Bricktown area where bars are clustered within walking distance.

The second makes the trip across the border to score some New Belgium beers like Fat Tire potentially illegal. A typical six-pack is 72 ounces of beer, more than twice what is legally allowed.

Another important transportation law is the one governing partial bottles of wine. Oklahoma does allow consumers who purchase a bottle of wine at a hotel or restaurant to take the remainder home, but there are restrictions.

Marta Patton, deputy director of Oklahoma's Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission, said the law is not specific about where the wine must be placed in the vehicle. "It states that the wine may be removed as long as it is partially consumed and properly re-corked," she said, "but there is no specific language about the location in the car."           

According to Wardlow, Oklahoma's open container law requires the re-corked bottle to be treated like any other open container, which means open bottles must be placed in the trunk of the car, or in the far back compartment of SUVs and station wagons.

In addition to traditional police enforcement, the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office also schedules monthly "traffic safety checkpoints." Essentially a roadblock, the checkpoints are set up on major thoroughfares and every car coming through is stopped. Mark Myers, public information director for the office, said the checkpoints had several goals.

"We look for felony and misdemeanor warrants, expired or suspended licenses, and out-of-date license plates," he said. "Of course, if we find someone driving intoxicated, we will take that person into custody. The hope is that we will decrease traffic accidents and drinking-related accidents."

To speed things up, the sheriff's office has a small, portable kiosk that allows the deputies to swipe drivers' licenses and check for violations electronically. Myers said scheduled checkpoints are not announced to the public, and he was unaware of any law that would require notification.

Both Myers and Wardlow said the public's safety was paramount to their departments, and both emphasized the importance of sobriety in traffic safety. Myers said the checkpoint strategy has been very successful, so much so that they are receiving requests from departments around the state for help. "Greg Horton

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